Cafe days in the midst of meltdown

During the height of the pandemic a new bit verbiage emerged to describe being under lockdown and looking at social media feeds everyday. “Doom scrolling” is the term used to describe watching the world meltdown from your phone screen. The ice caps are melting, the penguins are dying, the oceans are full of trash, there is a raging mystery virus etc. holy shit was the news a depressing place to be. And then we ‘moved on.’. The optimism hit a bump and people began mentioning a return to “normalcy” although we weren’t quite sure what that might look like these days. Just as some grains of hope began to fall from the heavens, 20222 dragged us down into a tomb to beat our kidneys with old raggedy bowling pins. Russia has invaded Ukraine… Mass graves are being discovered, millions of people are fleeing to nearby countries, and inflation has come to grind the average American under a rarely understood economic jackboot. Things are looking desperate all over the world. Food prices skyrocketing, possible nuclear warfare, the stock market has been shredded to bloody bits and is now attracting flies. The Crypto bros are in desperate need of new underwear to survive the month, and home buyers are being squeezed by nosebleed prices plus higher interest rates.

Slow down and smell the flowers from time to time

So what is to be done?!

Right this minute? Not much. Remember this too shall pass. Off all the geopolitical situations I may read about on a daily basis I can control approximately 0% of them. I’m not saying become an apathetic shit head, or that we have no agency, but there askew things in your direct, intentional life that you CAN control and that will have a direct positive impact on your life. If the news is freaking you out and making you run for a Xanax drip….stop reading it for a while. Take a walk. Take a detox from social media…Take a Fucking breathe. A ball of anxious frustration about the possible future does you and those around you absolutely no good. Like I said before, this too she pass. Stick to your plan. If your plan needs to adapt, then make the necessary changes. I walked to a cafe here in Bogotá where I enjoy the chai latte, and they have an abundance of plants. I walked a mile or so, pondered a few of life’s damnable questions then sat down to unpack some of this shit through words. I know shit is crazy out there, but there are also unabashedly amazing things too. No one I know has been burned at that that stake for witchcraft lately, people are living longer, there is no Spanish Inquisition, we can cook food by frying fucking air…these things are giant leaps over our previous experience here on earth. Remember that before 1800 not a single country on earth had a life expectancy over 40. THINK about that. No grand parents and very few parents. You’d be more concerned with plague or famine anyway.

Find some green spaces

What I’m saying is you can still embrace optimism, and yield it like a secret super weapon. Optimism is like the force, don’t give into the doom. Become an optimistic Jedi.

Thank you

Back to Bogotá

…and here we are once again. Rainy days in the Colombian capital. moody mountain views and distant thunder. Strong dark coffee is perfect to fight the afternoon nap feelings. I arrived back in Bogota around 10:30 pm, cleared customs quick, the line was light, and full of edgy defense contractors and people visiting family. I had a contact come and grab me for the very reasonable sum of 30,000 pesos. The car was tiny and possibly a Chinese knock off of a South Korean model. Crammed into the front as non official taxis are a legal grey area we sped toward the pink zone, AKA Zona Rosa, one of the more unlikely places for gringo stabbings in the city. The driver was from Medellin, a born Paisa. We talked about how the food was better was there, Bogota was a bit cold, and Cartagena too damn hot. A very similar conversation I have with most Paisa’s I encounter in Bogota.

This mission was different, I had returned to the city laden with precious cargo. turns out the pure orgiastic consumer haven that is the United States consumes quantities of high end electronics like the world might soon end. Always onto whatever the newest item might be, north Americans fiendishly devour it. easy credit terms, lay-away, buy now, pay later, damn the consequences, we must have it! This means that all the slightly used gadgets plummet in value…until you relocate them to countries with a much different GDP.

My goal here was simple. After coming here a half dozen times and getting a feel for the country and the people here, I had started a non profit foundation, an organization to facilitate the repurposing of said electronics to this market, and repurposing them, then using the funds to help the most disadvantaged folks here. Enter the Venezuelan diaspora. I will write more about all of these efforts later. ( I know, I know, I NEED to write MORE). I can only put proverbial pen to paper when the mood strikes. Often times writing is cathartic for me, the mood strikes during times of elation, and times of eminent peril. Looking at the news headlines so far this year things are looking mighty grim. Thus perhaps the words will flow.

So here I am in Bogota, collecting stories, watching the rain, pondering my role in this big twisted red brick drenched place. I have two weeks here, and I return again next month. Continually scratching at the surface. Making a small difference here and there, hoping it makes a slight positive dent in peoples lives. I know at least some of them find my attempts at the Spanish language mixed with sign language humorous. Sometimes sharing a meal with someone, and laughing a bit is best kind of impact to have.

Bogotá in the Rain

Holy shit it’s November. I’m 24 hours returned from Bogotá and Colombia is on my mind. What is it about this place? After venturing there the first time, I knew the world simply wouldn’t be the same. For the Midwestern American imagination Colombia stirs up exotic and dangerous stories. I suppose that’s why I had to go.

The stories I have encountered there keep me coming back, as often as possible. Stories of triumph, stories of despair. Realising that there are countless questions, and no easy answers. Carrying those questions with me back to the states over the years has changed me. Travel will often do that. Our very psyche must expand to accommodate new experiences and once it does, there is no going back. You can feel your previous notions creak and fracture with these new voyages. Over time they will blown apart as the former completely yields to the way things are now.

There are a few places on this stunning planet that have had this definitive impact on me, and Colombia is one of them. I have begun to untangle these stories and sort them into what they mean. Even writing about this place has its kinds of fits and starts. Now that its snowing and a touch unforgiving outside here, the time has come to write it out.

More to come soon.

On Getting Robbed While Traveling (Madrid Edition)

I was robbed in Madrid. Not in a fearsome my life was in danger way, but in a ” wait, where the fuck is my wallet?” kind of way. It sucked. What I want to share with you are a few insights to help your experience suck less should it happen to you.

I know, everyone has these iron strategies they supposedly follow everywhere. Short of gluing your valuables to your nether regions they will be occasionally vulnerable. When I mentioned I had been pick pocketed, most Americans had very similar reactions. “You travel so much, i’m surprised you didn’t do this/have one these etc”. No Fanny pack for me, no taping currency to my inner thigh, etc. Heres the thing. Travel this much and youre going to have some AMAZING experiences that rejuvenate your faith in humanity, and illuminate the human condition. You will also have occasional catastrophes…the key is to take them all in stride. I had written about the beauty and enthralling nature of Madrid shortly before having my wallet stolen there. Notes From Madrid

Did this event change my feelings about the city? Absolutely not. Will I return? I sure as shit will come back. Now here are a few tips to mitigate the suck in the event you are missing your wallet.

1.) Only carry 1-3 cards on you. Bring a few more for backup, but leave those in your luggage. Cash in a separate pocket.

2.) The cards you plan in using, download and setup their mobile apps. This makes locking the card super easy once you discover it’s gone.

3.) Add your cards to your digital wallet. This is KEY. Once you have locked your cards the physical piece of plastic can no longer be used, but the digital one is still good to go.

4.) Don’t take it personally. These are professionals who do this for a living. They didn’t target you because they hate you. You look successful and not local. Congrats. This happens in every city all over the world. As long as you leave the encounter unscathed, you still came out ahead.

5.) Breathe. That cold tingle down your spine? That will fade. This isn’t the end of the world. Citi and Capital One refunded all of the fraudulent purchases and sent me new cards in 48 hours. Don’t let something like this ruin your trip!

Cards are stolen/misplaced all the time. Being prepared for the inevitable is simply part of the game. I’ve been at this just shy of 20 years, and I’ve seen a few places in that time. Finally happened to me, and while I’m still waiting for a new drivers license, things could be MUCH worse. When I noticed my wallet gone I was walking into a restaurant, I sat down, hopped on their WiFi and a few minutes later started getting alerts that my cards were making purchases. I realized what had happened, muttered profanity and locked all of my cards right there from my phone. I made a few calls and enjoyed an extra pint.

What about you? Have you ever been robbed abroad? I’ve heard a colorful spat of stories, please feel free to share in the comments.

Notes from Madrid

Spain is such a twisted fascination in the mind of modern history. Spending time here having read many of said histories, this stuff proves perplexing and at the same time organically fucking beautiful each and every time. As you may not remember, Barcelona, while easy to love is not my favorite city in the wide world. barcelona-is-easy-to-love/ Madrid however is near and dear to my heart. If you possess more personality than a prolapsed sphincter you cannot hate on this country. The food, the wine, the people, the architecture…the list goes on. For me, coming here after a 5 year hiatus, a global pandemic and assorted other drudgery proved completely serendipitous.

I ended up here by chance. Seriously. When a sub $300 fare to Spain popped out of Grand Rapids MI no less…I felt/feel obligated to grab it. That’s a cornerstone of my wandering. Fate based airfare. I have a shortlist, sure, but that does not 100% dictate where I’m headed. Some diety somewhere had smiled down upon me. Carpe diem. A 5 year hiatus is enough. Surely no better sign that it was time to hit Madrid, venture to near by regions and bask in Spanish glory.

This trek I brought along a non literal guest in the form of a hardcover, recently released book that had popped up in my google news a few days prior to departure. I was going to Spain with uncle Tony.

I absolutely fucking needed this book. After Bourdain died I was incredibly confused. How could the coolest guy alive with the best job in the world hang himself in a bathroom?! What I needed was to untangle what Tony and his work meant to me, and what I was going to do with that. I annihilated this book on the flight over. Laurie Woolever did such an inspiring job collecting, synthesizing and publishing over 90 interviews. For anyone left hurt, confused, or frustrated after his passing, you need this book as well. This work is like the closure you always hope for after something shitty happens. After finishing this book I felt something. I felt moved. I wandered through these streets of Madrid just like the hungry ghost Tony had talked about before. I wrote to Helen Cho, who I adored in the Roadrunner documentary, and she even replied!!

I felt my brain stem on fire, I felt all the wanderlust, all the yearning, uncertainty, doubt, apprehension and drive that has provided the rocket fuel for my travel adventures come bubbling up. Sorting through the mental gurgles…Going to Poland in 2003 opened the door, Ireland, Russia, and Thailand a few years later shredded what was left of that door down to the hinges. After Russia in 2005 there was no going back. I was a hopeless addict. Not some corny weekend warrior with a clever passport cover and cruise tickets…I mean I was done for. Married to the road. It was the fall of 05 when I realized my life would be different than most folks. The SUV, kids in matching outfits, trendy luggage sets, house in the burbs, the golden Labra-doodle thing with the dumb name and the deceptively adorable wife…? Wasn’t going to work for me. I’d be dedicated to the pursuit. Engaging the beast, like some holy warrior so it doesn’t engage me. Peeling back that onion, Pushing those boundaries, running down a dream by any and all means possible. Saving myself, because who the fuck else is supposed to do it? Would it be pretty? Hell no. I just knew (hoped) it would be worth it. To this day, I am unmarried, no kids, no pets. I have a few houseplants. I am am a travel addict. Pure and (not) simple. Tony’s show No Reservations, encapsulated that dream. My buddy showed me the Ireland episode and after that I was hooked. I devoured Bourdain’s written words like the holy gospel, and never looked back. Deep discount fare to Istanbul? Let’s do it. Christmas in the Balkan’s? I’m there. My parents friends were convinced I worked for the CIA, or some clandestine service. FB friends from high school thought it must be drug running, weapons smuggling or some sordid combination. The rumors made smile, and build more infrastructure to travel more…with no sign of slowing down just yet. Up until 2018 uncle Tony was always there like some wayward Saint with daft wisdom to encourage me along.

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”

I threw myself into traveling, into experience, into the unknown. I’m eternally grateful for that. Grateful for the influences along the way that pushed me to do it. Grateful to Bourdain for such brilliant work.

Being here in Madrid, finishing that book and hitting these streets I felt a kind of familiarity. Like coming home in a way. Perhaps that’s what we are all searching for.

On Not Traveling/Writing…And Finding The Juice

Wow, here we are. I can imagine you, like me have had quite the year(s) worth of experience in my absence. My last post was January of 2020. I had shit to say but I simply stopped. I used to think of reasons, justifications, and all the rest. Then, some months in, the reality simply dawned on me… I didnt owe anything to anybody. Then the world imploded with Covid. I was on my way back from the Philippines when international air travel came to a stand still. I wrote personal things during the pandemic and built a bad ass reading list as I quarantined solo and did my part to come out of this pandemic okay. 60 or so books down things were looking on the up and up. A few choice elements of normalcy returned. I had 7-9 trips or so end up canceled over that time, and for someone who measures a real sense of time through excursion planning, the adjustment was quite real.

All of a sudden you realise that you aren’t going fucking anywhere. I hunkered down, went a bit stoic on it, and kept reading. I was working,still teaching, investing and keeping mostly sane. 2021 brought the defeat of Donald Trump and a kind of optimism that things might be headed in at least a *better* direction. I was finally able to leave the country a few times. Mini jaunts at first to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Colombia. I needed those. I have a kind of pensive lust for the “road” as it were, and if not properly satiated, I may run amok like some depraved beast. August of 2021, 2 years to the date since I last assaulted Europe’s shores found my sorry ass wandering around Dublin, Ireland. A proper pint of the dark stuff, and onto Croatia we went. I kept thinking back to Sicily(my last Euro trek), I kept thinking back to the world before Covid, before masks, mandates and madness.

Croatia was bright, beautiful, warm, soaked in Aperol and oh so perfectly European. I didnt quite have my footing yet while there. after 2 years that felt like 20 away from the continent, this was a bit like an intro round. wobbly, excited, overzealous, and eager. Prom night like fumbling at the then guarded treasure that is serene travel joy. Finding my stride proved a bit more difficult than anticipated. Returning from my conquest of the Adriatic, I waited in anticipation for the next cheap fare to come along…and BANG! thats how I ended up in Spain. My ass currently going numb in this cheap hotel chair and rickety desk. the sounds of Madrid’s boisterous Saturday night rampaging through the window. My jamon drunk senses imploring me to get back on this saddle of writing. You see I actually packed a real hardcover newly released book on this trek. Blazing through about 90% of it on the plane over I arrived in Madrid hungry and deep in thought. That’s for my next post. Turns out i’ve got some things to untangle…and WordPress just billed me for another year.

cheers.

I found it in Sicily.

I ended up in Palermo almost by accident. If you are familiar with my style at all, I rarely book anything beforehand. August was a strange month this year. I had wrapped up my summer classes, and I was feeling rather restless. I had tracked down a stupendously cheap flight to Barcelona in the spring, and after booking it had almost forgot about it. After grading all of the exams and submitting final grades on a warm Sunday afternoon I headed to Chicago for the evening haul to Barcelona. I have written before, that while truly a great city, Barcelona is not my favorite. ( Barcelona is easy to love)

img_7248

Still, I wanted to vacate the states for a bit, I needed a fresh view, to chew on some things in my mind and “get it sorted” as the Brits say. 2019 had been full throttle, and yet I was a bit pensive about the near future. I didnt want to push this 20 day trek to the limit. I wanted to take it easy. Lets be honest here, few places are more conducive to idyllic relaxation than the south of Spain. Catalan or otherwise.  Boundaries had been rocked so far for the year. Costa Rica, The Phillipines, Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus, Colombia…I had made sweet love to the travel ambitions that I so adore.  IMG_3529

 

Mountains, landscapes, sea side glory, all of the good stuff. Now I was going to take it easy, unplug, and wander a bit. I landed in BCN on an easy morning. Quickly passed through customs, and grabbed a taxi to the center. One cannot have a bad time in Spain. I’m convinced of this. Unless you have the personality of a banana slug. With this is mind…Barcelona, after the first night I found myself content…but still restless. I wanted to hit a kind of travel stride. the addiction that I must feed. I gave Barcelona one more more day to wander the old city, walk the public beaches and gorge on pinchos and tapas. img_7271

During the evening, however, I began to wander on various flight apps looking at the possibilities of further escape. Wizz air threw some enticing flirtation my way. They recently began  flying to the republic of Georgia. Georgia has been high on my list for years. I have gotten close…but not quite close enough. I worked on the Georgia  logistics for a few hours, and felt mostly set on that idea.  It would be Georgia, and maybe even a push into Azerbaijan to see a dear graduate school friend in Baku. The next morning, I wake up, find a suitable breakfast, and scope my carefully laid plans… Surprise! Tickets double, tickets sell out, “this flight is no longer avail on this day” etc.

 

well shit.

 

Time for an alternate plan. This is really where serendipity comes to play. I cast my fortunes to the wind, and obviously Georgia was not meant to be (this time).  Now I need to load the flight map and see where I will land. (figuratively as well as literally)  The matrix gods give me a few easy options. Dubrovnik, Bilbao, and Porto all offer up amazing options, as well as access to the sea, culinary genius, and local charm. Plus, there are  cheap direct flights, budget airline style. Then I see it. Fuckin Palermo, Sicily.

Lets do it. book it. Leaves tonight.  Sicily greeted me like a long lost lover, quick to a new yet familiar embrace. I was smitten.

IMG_7391

Sicily has it. I can’t exactly define it. From the chaotic airport to the goofy bus that takes you to the center. I arrived late at night, ventured to my hotel, and then walked a bit. I’ve said it before numerous times. There is no better way to learn a new place than night steps. Bright and early I hit the streets of this old world place and instantly felt it.  This wasn’t anything like fuckin Disneyland. Old world authenticity and killer gelato will forever be a favorite combination of mine. IMG_7399

From the a few of the dusty neglected churches, and the tiny side streets where they are located to the intense local markets where the term “organic” need not apply, I absolutely loved Sicily. I averaged 10 miles a day on foot.  This is a place where I will spend considerably more time in the future. I’m always hunting. In these now 79 countries, some places have it. The magic . Other places, not so much. This is a fluid concept, some places lose it, and others gain it. A kind of Travelers currency, certain places are simply well stocked with a kind of grit that I find irresistible. This is one of the reasons you will most likely never see my ass on a cruise. I don’t want to knock them, as they are loved by millions, but for me there is an essential missing element.

IMG_7411

I can walk these streets for months and feel good. There are enough subtle differences here , especially with the American Midwest that we find it altogether charming. Off the popular tourist track as it were, but with all the significant draws of “Europe”. Like the food. Dear sweet baby Jesus the food. Italy as a whole is one of those places where gluttony surely cannot be a sin. Walking multiple miles per day is the only way to begin to fight the pasta demons that entice you at every meal.

IMG_7417

Even then, Palermo is the birthplace of the Cannoli, and if you’ve never had a real one, lose your dessert virginity here. Only after, then you (like me) can die happy.  I plan to write more about Sicily. This place has that magic that I search the globe for. I ended up here almost on accident, and I could not have enjoyed it more.  Sicily has the magic in abundance. For that I am eternally  grateful. I spent 10 days exploring this coast, IMG_7430

and I smiled the entire time.  Exactly what I needed to work some things over in the rock tumbler that is the human brain. The sun, salt water and proper pasta can combat near any evil. My first few days in Palermo floated by, as this place quickly became one of my favorite “accidents.”

 

Weekend words from Nomadic Matt

I’m here in Lima, Perú. I’ve been at this for a while. In many respects I can consider travel my life’s work. People are constantly asking me for tips, tricks, hacks etc. mostly though, it’s the “how do you do it”?

I’ve packaged that response in multiple ways over the years and each time I do I’m reminded of the most vital ingredient.

Just do it. Start somewhere. Go somewhere. Go ANYWHERE. See as much of this insanely beautiful world as you can. You will not regret it.

From Nomadic Matt (nomadicmatt.com)

“We all ponder exotic locations and amazing adventures. We think of the trips we will take and the places we will meet.

And then we abandon those dreams as rapidly as we thought them up.

We think of all the reasons why we can’t go. Why today isn’t perfect and we just have too many things to do.

Something comes up and our plans are put off until tomorrow as we wait for “the right time.” When we have more money, more time off, when things aren’t so crazy – then we can travel. We just need the stars to align a little more.

But, here is a secret: it will never be the right time to travel.

You’ll always find an excuse as to why today just isn’t the right day.

You will always have some reason to stay at home.

The idea that the stars will align and you’ll find the perfect day to step out of your door and into the world is a fantasy.

But tomorrow won’t be any better.

Tomorrow, there will still be bills to pay.

Tomorrow, there still won’t be enough money.

Tomorrow, there will still be someone’s wedding to attend or a birthday party to go to.

Tomorrow, there will still be planning to do.

Tomorrow, you will still second-guess yourself.

Tomorrow, you’ll still find yourself putting off the preparation for one more day.

Tomorrow, people you know will still sow the seeds of doubt in your head.

Tomorrow, you’ll find another excuse why you can’t go.

The perfect day will never come.

If I had waited for the “perfect day”, I’d still be waiting. I’d still be waiting for someone to come with me or for just a little more money.

Sometimes, you just have to take the leap and go for it. Ships aren’t meant to stay in harbor – and you weren’t meant to wonder “what if?” Because, one day, you’ll find you’ve run out of tomorrows.

And you’ll be filled with nothing but sadness and regret.

So stop waiting.

Take the leap.

Today is your day.”

What do you think?

Barcelona is easy to love

Ah Barcelona. Bright, beautiful and exotic to the American mind. The home of Gaudi, the stunning architectural master that adds yet another flavorful layer to the Catalan city by the sea.

I visited Barcelona in the early summer 3 yers ago. It was my first time in Spain (A country I have come to love the fuck out of). I had spent the majority of my travel time off the beaten path as it were. Trekking through the rapidly changing regions of Eastern Europe and the former USSR. Friends and colleagues, fellow travelers and Instagram alike had hyped Barcelona to impossible heights. “The absolute best city in the world”.

I had to go right?

And thus I did.

And I get it. I truly do. Barcelona is the topless beach, where someone passes you a joint and invites you to hacky sack. Barcelona is all night sangria. Barcelona is shockingly gorgeous people of damn near every stripe. (Seriously though, where did all of you beautiful people come from??) It’s mostly safe and enchanting enough.

But therein lies the rub. Not to sound like a wanker, but I’ve been at this for a bit. I thrive on finding that travel magic and at this point I gotta dig for it. Barcelona…is like Disney world. Barcelona is a dream, an idea. This City is the myth that keeps you working over time to be able to pay for that vacation. So, it shouldn’t be shocking that It’s a place SATURATED with tourists. Now, I recognize that I am one of those tourists. Albeit not in a backward ball cap and flip flops getting blind wasted in the afternoon and cat calling passing ladies.

I had an idea that since the world and everything in it changes so damn fast (who’s getting old?!) that perhaps Barcelona would be different 3 years later. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m not overtly hating. Every place has elements of awesome. Barcelona certainly has more than its fair share. If you go, and if you most certainly should, stay outside the Las Ramblas area. When you venture near grace yourself for heat, crowds, that overpowering scent of urine and airport style prices.

Stay anywhere else, and try to at least make an effort to engage some aspects of Catalan culture. Don’t be a sack of asses and enjoy your holiday.

This August Barcelona was under 300$ RT from the midwestern US. The best option on the continent and a great hub to explore the Mediterranean regions I am keen on.

Did I enjoy it? Abso-fucking-Lutley. Barcelona just doesn’t have that magic for me. The primary industry is tourists, who flock to its sunny shores and bars like a European Cancun…only without the resort culture.

Loads and loads of people love Cancun, and even more love Barcelona I’m sure. It’s a personal preference thing. I don’t really dig cruises or theme parks. I’ve always been on the hunt for something more…visceral. For a first trip to Europe, I would still go with Barcelona over London/Paris. I would land in Barcelona, then head elsewhere in Spain or the region. Which is exactly what I did.

More on that next post!

New Adventures

IMG_3526

Hi!

2019 has been been chocked fucking full of it. Made it to Boston, The Philippines, Europe, the Middle East, back to Colombia…and its been absolutely amazing. All kinds of transition happening, but also all kinds of adventure! Tomorrow we head to Chicago, then onto Spain for Monday morning. From there…who knows?!?

 

Excited for a new piece? Anywhere you would like to see me hit and report back on?

Let me know!

IMG_0290